One reason Labor says the time period Mr Morrison is using is “disingenuous” is because it says there is a lag between when a policy is announced and when it begins to take hold. Mr Rudd’s announcement on July 19 may have had an immediate impact on the number of asylum seekers embarking on their journey, but not on those who had already started it, including: people already on the water and not yet intercepted; people waiting to board a boat in a rural area with no access to communications; or people who had started their journey and already paid the people smugglers and decided to take their chances.
‘Destination anywhere? Factors affecting asylum seekers’ choice of destination country’, written by Harriet Spinks from the Parliamentary Library, stated in February that:
“For those who make their way towards Australia… there are very few other options if they are looking for an asylum-receiving country, with an established system for processing and providing legal status to refugees. The only other developed country in the region with an established refugee determination system is New Zealand, which is extremely difficult to reach for asylum seekers travelling via irregular means.
Thus, even if potential asylum seekers reach a transit country and become more informed about Australia’s asylum policies, their options for deciding on an alternative destination country at that point in their journey are extremely limited. This is an important consideration in the context of Australian policy-making, raising the question of how effective deterrence measures targeting asylum seekers in transit can be, given the limited choices available to them at that stage of their journey.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Fact Check that while policy can influence the flow of asylum seekers, a range of other factors are also at play:
“The key drivers of refugee movement… remain war, conflict and persecution in their homelands. The reasons why people flee their home countries and then sometimes move on out of their own regions are complex, and there is no typical journey for asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia.
Geography and physical accessibility (including, with respect to maritime movements, weather conditions) play a large part, and often there are historical or cultural reasons – including the presence of a large diaspora in the destination country – why asylum seekers of a certain nationality move toward certain industrialised countries.
The policies pursued by successive governments over the last 12 months that restrict access to Australian territory are also a factor as they remove the ability to make an asylum claim in this country.”
Around the same time Mr Rudd announced his regional resettlement arrangements with Papua New Guinea, Indonesia agreed to a request from Mr Rudd to stop granting visas on arrival to Iranians. This could also have had an impact on asylum seeker arrivals in Australia, given the large number of people who come from Iran.
There has been an 80 per cent reduction in asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat in the comparison period outlined by Mr Morrison. However, the data shows the number of arrivals began to slow significantly under Labor, soon after Mr Rudd’s regional resettlement arrangement was announced.
Mr Morrison’s claim is correct, but there is more to the story.